Gilchrist Made False Claims, Encouraged Hate

Dear Editor,

I would like to clarify why on Oct. 16, many of us protested Jim Gilchrist’s presence on campus.

Most readers would agree that universities are not soapboxes for people to freely express their unsubstantiated opinions. The university is a forum for those seeking to grow our collective knowledge constructively. Gilchrist is not that type of speaker. He willfully distorts the facts about immigration. In a recent article, he blames undocumented immigrants for a host of social ills. He said they increase crime including violent offenses. He holds them responsible for our current economic instability and budget crisis. He even accuses them of bringing leprosy. In the section of the article where he lays out these accusations, Gilchrist provides only one footnote as a reference: a Los Angeles Times article which he claims states how L.A. has the lowest literacy rate of any city in the country. Not once does the article mention illiteracy. It’s about two-year schools charging higher fees (Gilchrist conveniently left out the part of the title that states this).

Most of Gilchrist’s claims are unfounded. Experts consistently point out that immigration (including the undocumented kind) has an overall positive effect on the U.S. economy. Immigrants pay the same real-estate taxes and the same sales and other consumption taxes that other Americans pay. There is no basis for the leprosy claim. Also, the notion that undocumented immigrants are more prone to commit crimes does not square with government data.

The facts say that overall, undocumented immigrants make this country a better place. That is why immigrants’ rights advocates seek to give these people legal status. The majority of them are productive, law-abiding citizens (except for their undocumented status, which is a misdemeanor offense. So is jaywalking). We owe it to them.

The other reason why we opposed Gilchrist’s presence on campus is because we consider his speech to be hateful and potentially harmful to the millions of Latinos who live in this country. The lies he spreads are like yelling fire in a crowded theater. In 2007, Gilchrist told a crowd of 400 people that “it’s OK to say ‘rapist,’ ‘robber’ and ‘murder’ when referring to ‘illegal aliens’.” This is exactly the sort of mental picture of immigrants that leads some to commit shameful and sometimes fatal acts of violence against them. It is no coincidence that since the Minutemen — and other similar nativist groups — began their crusade in recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in anti-Latino hate crimes.

We tried to prevent our respected institution from validating Gilchrist as a legitimate commentator on immigration issues and amplifying his message of hate. I regret that in the end, UCSD and the Osher Institute fell into his trap. The next time he speaks at a forum, he will likely qualify his deceitful rhetoric by saying that he was once invited to lecture at UCSD as a “distinguished lecturer.” Shame on this university for allowing him to do so.

— José I. Fusté
Ethnic studies Ph.D. candidate